I’m setting out to read Isaiah again this Advent: 25 days to read 66 chapters. It shouldn’t be a problem but, what with a pile of grading running into preparation for the looming new semester, holiday gatherings, and a sinful nature I seldom seem to reach the end in time.
My ancestors in the Reformed tradition jettisoned Advent along with most of the rest of the Church year. This has always struck me as a mistake. Advent, a four-Sunday season of preparation for the coming of Christ, opens up time to take in portions of Scripture I would otherwise ignore.
There are passages, many of them, that express ancient Israel’s troubles in images that name my own, the Church’s own, and those of all the world:
Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faith.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds;
they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil. (Isaiah 1:5-6, RSV)
This is the prophet passing on God’s analysis of those who have turned away and are estranged from God. It will not likely come up in a praise song or hymn any time soon. I would likely not choose to dwell on this description of sin’s consequences in my life most of the time.
But if it is true that I have turned away from God in various ways at various times–and in some ways on this very day–then I have to think it does me genuine good to hear, and consider well, the consequences.
I remember, as a kid in an Episcopal church, thinking that the readings from the prophets tended toward gloom and doom. But there is so often a cool refreshing breeze of hope:
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool; (Isaiah 1:18 RSV)
After that searing question and troubling diagnosis, the prophet quotes God’s treatment plan. This promise of health restored, reconciliation and hope, is good news–but only after you know the problem. To those who turn again and draw near, who make the inner change of becoming “willing and obedient” the consequences are glorious.
And Isaiah points us beyond the more culturally acceptable hope of individual salvation to a world fundamentally different from the one we know:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4 RSV)
Jesus has come and I am glad, so glad, to know and follow him.
The work of Jesus in my life and in this world is not yet done.
Jesus is coming and I am so very glad for a season to attend to preparing for him.
What will Advent preparations be like for you this year?
If you read this far I hope you will scroll down and subscribe for email updates!